Meridian F80 CD Receiver System

When I first learned that Meridian had co-badged, with Ferrari, a $3000 table radio, I was tempted to cynically dismiss it as a marketing gimmick—an attempt by the audio manufacturer to leverage the brand loyalty of the Italian automaker to its own highly developed industrial designs. The problem was, that required that I dismiss everything I knew about Meridian and its singular head designer, Bob Stuart.

Meridian has always stressed its industrial design—in fact, the company's full name, Boothroyd Stuart Meridian, gives top billing to industrial designer Allen Boothroyd—so I should have realized that teaming up with Ferrari was more than an excuse to slap some Rosso Corsa on a few boxes.

Not to mention that you don't usually see Ferrari's cavallino rampante on just any chassis. The guys in Modena are pretty picky about putting that horse on winners.

Aerodynamics are for people who can't build engines
Patting the F80's curved red flank, Bob Stuart paused for a minute. "This is what Ferrari contributed to the project. Their materials research division developed this barium-loaded composite material which we could mold into a rigid monocoque chassis with separate chambers for two stereo loudspeakers and a rear-firing .1 subwoofer."

The chassis resembles half of a very large M&M candy—it's half of an oblate spheroid—and comes in candy colors, too: Modena Giallo (yellow), Argento Nurburgring (bright silver), Nero (black), Bianco Avus (off-white), as well as Ferrari's familiar Rosso Corsa crimson. It's affixed to a diecast base that contains the disc transport, amplifiers, and "digital engine": the amplification and DSP equalization.

"We've been perfecting DSP since the early '80s," Stuart said, "so we use drivers of our own design, using digital signal processing and active equalization to get big sound out of such a small enclosure." The forward-firing drivers are alloy-cone designs that I reckon to be about 3" in diameter (Meridian doesn't list the specs on its website), and the rear-firing woofer has an oval fiber-filled driver. The amplifier is rated at 80W.

The F80's slot-loaded Meridian optical disc drive "allows you to listen to 24-bit/96kHz files," said Stuart, who was active in promoting hi-rez DVD-Audio files. It also lets you play DVDs, as the F80 has both composite and S-video outputs. As well, the F80 plays CD-DA, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA, DualDisc, and DVDÒR/RW.

The F80's display is easy to read and allows you to display either a DVD's top menu or disc menu without having to connect it to a video monitor. While the remote control has only 15 buttons, it allowed me to control every function I ever required. That's good industrial design.

The F80 is packed with inputs, unobtrusively tucked into the lower part of its rear panel. In addition to the composite and S-video output jacks, there's a DIN socket labeled "FOR FUTURE ACCESSORIES," a 3.5mm stereo jack, digital optical in, an optical digital out/headphone jack, and two antenna inputs.

The F80 is billed as "portable," which, at just over 14 lbs, it is—you can pick it up by its molded-in handle and take it somewhere else. It isn't battery-powered or all that easy to schlep, but you could carry it with you if you wanted to. And I nearly forgot—the F80 is a clock radio, too.

It really is striking. I put it on a countertop in our kitchen, where—other than occasionally thinking Holy crap, that sounded good—I quickly took it for granted. However, whenever anyone dropped by for the first time, we had to discuss that brilliant-red objet d'art.

If he can't do it with Ferrari, well, he can't do it
Let's get the big one out of the way right up front: The Meridian F80 is a $3000 table radio. Ask Bob Stuart who the F80 is aimed at and he'll respond, "Anyone with a job who loves music."

I've heard him say that, but isn't it just the slightest bit glib?

"Not really. Meridian's core customer continues to be people who are just a little fanatical about hi-fi, and for that customer, we'll gladly sell an 808.2 CD player—or two. But there are a lot of people who like nice things, who may have even bought an expensive flat-panel video monitor, and when they go to buy speakers or something to listen to music or their DVDs through . . . well, they either see our very-high-performing but very large boxes or else overpriced clock radios.

"So who would buy the F80? People with eyes, people with ears, people who are tired of settling for 'good enough.' The F80 makes a very satisfying home entertainment center—perhaps too good. A few of our loyal customers have told us they aren't listening to their big Meridian systems since they bought F80s."

Meridian America Inc.
8055 Troon Circle, Suite C
Austell, GA 30168-7849
(404) 344-7111